'They killed you, my soul': Award-winning Palestinian photographer Niraz Saied dies in Syria jail

'They killed you, my soul': Award-winning Palestinian photographer Niraz Saied dies in Syria jail
Niraz Saied, who hailed from the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, was arrested by Bashar al-Assad's security forces in October 2015.
3 min read
16 July, 2018
Niraz Saied was arrested by Bashar al-Assad's security forces in October 2015. [Getty]

An award-winning Palestinian-Syrian photographer who documented life in the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus has died after nearly three years in regime detention, his partner said on Monday.

Niraz Saied, who himself hailed from the Palestinian refugee camp, was arrested by Bashar al-Assad's regime forces in October 2015.

His long-time partner, Lamis Alkhateeb, wrote on Facebook on Monday that Saied had died while in detention. He was believed to be 27 years old.

"There's nothing harder than writing these words, but Niraz doesn't die in silence," wrote Alkhateeb, who lives in Germany.

"They killed my darling, my husband, my Niraz - they killed you, my soul. Niraz died in the Syrian regime's prisons," she wrote.

It was not clear how Alkhateeb had learned of Saied's death, and she did not immediately respond to AFP's request for additional comment. 

Their relationship had formed part of the 2014 film "Letters from Yarmouk", which featured clips filmed by Saied of daily life in the battered, besieged camp

That same year, Saied won a photography competition run by the United Nations' Palestinian agency (UNRWA) with a snapshot titled "The Three Kings."

It depicted the downtrodden faces of three brothers waiting to be evacuated from the camp for medical treatment.

"You can't find a complete family in the refugee camp," Saied said after winning the award.

"I used to feel that in every portrait of a Palestinian family you could see the shadow of a person missing, and that is why my photos are dimly lit. But there is always hope."

Yarmouk was once a thriving southern district of Syria's capital home to more than 160,000 Palestinian refugees as well as Syrians.

Syria's regime imposed a crippling siege on it in 2012 and activists inside - including Saied - documented the dire humanitarian situation with photographs of gaunt families waiting for aid.

The Islamic State group overran the camp in 2015. In May, after a blistering regime assault, the ruins of the camp returned to government control. 

Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been forcibly disappeared since Syria's conflict broke out in 2011, the vast majority by regime forces.

Rights groups have accused the regime of large-scale torture and extrajudicial killing in its prisons. 

Families of detainees often hear nothing after the arrest, but in recent months some are discovering their detained relatives have been officially registered as deceased. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, said that within less than a month, some 28 families were either informed their detained relative was dead or told to come retrieve the body.

Hundreds more discovered their relative was recorded as "deceased" by government agencies while filing other kinds of paperwork.

Saied's childhood friend Ahmad Abbasi described him as "the finest person I knew".

"In the early days of his detention, we heard that he was still alive. Then we didn't know anything."

More than 4,000 Palestinian refugees have been killed in Syria's war. 

Before the deadly conflict began in 2011 there were around 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, descendants of those who were expelled or fled during the establishment of Israel in 1948 in the events of the Nakba.

At least 1,600 Palestinians have been detained by the Syrian regime.

Syrian regime jails have a notorious reputation with torture and killings by prison guards frequent, and conditions dire.

Former prison photographer Cesar documented some of the thousands tortured to death in detention.

Thousands were jailed for taking part in peaceful protests calling for reforms in 2011, or simply being related to suspected anti-government activists.

At least 13,000 prisoners are thought to have been secretly hanged by the regime, between 2011 and 2015 with thousands more thought to have died under torture.